brown mountain cliff beside of blue ocean aerial photography

by Rabia Abrar

Recent comments made by Benny Higgins, the chairman of Nicola Sturgeon’s advisory group on economic recovery, have caused quite a stir. WEAll would like to address his claims about how growth is the best way to build a fairer, greener and more equal Scotland.

“A market economy is well capable of responding to environmental change and delivering wellbeing”.

The current state of the world is proof that this is not the case.

The economic model that dominates policy making has strangled our imaginations and our sense of possibility: the current economy is seen as the only kind of economy that we can have – and changing it would bring society to its knees. But, we’re already there.

Our world is facing multiple crises: rising inequality, accelerating climate breakdown and rapid biodiversity loss. These issues are interconnected and stem from the same core problem: our economies are structured, governed, and measured to promote short-term growth over long-term stability.

A focus on ‘growth’ is not supporting the wellbeing of society. That’s why we see widening economic inequalities; increasing levels of insecurity, despair and loneliness; and the emergence of coping mechanisms that turn people inwards or against each other – all while trust in institutions withers away.

A focus on ‘growth’ is not supporting the wellbeing of our planet. Our home is on the brink of the 6th mass extinction with the prospect of catastrophic climate breakdown getting closer and closer. In the last 40 years, humanity as a whole has gone from using one planet’s worth of natural resources each year, to using one and a half, and is on course to using three planets worth by 2050.

Governments have responded to both crises with a suite of (often inadequate) amelioration measures, such as:

  • Redistributing after the gap between the wealthiest and the poorest has opened up
  • Cleaning up after floods and storms caused by climate change
  • Providing respiratory medicines after peoples’ asthma is exacerbated by pollution

While these are vital measures to help people cope with today’s circumstances – they are reactive measures that could be avoided in a wellbeing economy, which attends to their root causes.

“The recovery for Scotland has to be green, it has to be fair and it needs to be inclusive, but it needs to have economic growth”.

We disagree that a wellbeing economy is about generating “strong economic growth”.

A wellbeing economy would ask: “What sort of growth – and for whom – is needed for collective wellbeing? What sort of lives do people want to live and what sort of economy can enable that?”

Simply adding ‘inclusive’ and ‘green’ modifiers to ‘growth’ does not answer either of these vital questions.

In a true wellbeing economy approach, business, politics and economic activity would exist solely to deliver collective wellbeing – while being agnostic to economic growth, not dependent on it.

We are not against growth in GDP per se, but we are against the idea that GDP growth should be the top priority. We should only pursue growth in those areas of the economy that contribute to collective wellbeing and shrink those areas of the economy that damage it.

We do not need growth in GDP to achieve wellbeing.

What we need to be happy is security, comfort, social connections, a healthy environment and a feeling of belonging in our community(ies).

“A wellbeing economy needs growth to pay for itself”.

Growing GDP is incredibly expensive.

In our current economic system, growth in GDP is demanded as a means to pay for services that people need. But very often, these services are needed to fix the harm to people, communities and the environment that is created by a growth-driven economy. The costs of this ‘failure demand’ are enormous. For example, poverty in the UK alone, costs £78 billion every year.

A wellbeing economy would deliver good lives for people the first time around, and thus avoid having to deliver expensive down-stream interventions to fix the damage caused by growth-focused economies.

While avoiding these costs, wellbeing economy policies could also deliver benefits such as job creation in a growing renewables sector and the circular economy; improvements in health and economic and social resilience due to better environmental quality and equality.

Building a fairer, greener and more equal Scotland will require a different approach.

Decisions made in times of crisis have long-lasting consequences. After the 2008 financial crisis, inequality grew, and climate emissions spiralled. We want to see this moment seized for the common good, not to repeat the mistakes of the past.

The recovery period following the COVID-19 pandemic is a window of opportunity for Scotland to lead the world in truly putting collective wellbeing at the heart of economic policy making.

Imagine an economy, that by its very design, ended inequality and environmental destruction and delivered good lives for everyone, everywhere.

That’s better than growth.

Rabia Abrar
Communications Lead, WEAll.

#BuildBackBetterScot #BuildBackBetter #betterthangrowth

6 replies
  1. Postkey
    Postkey says:

    Usually the ‘economists’ who use ‘macroeconomic models’ ‘believe’ that the solution to the current economic problem is the implementation of the ‘correct’ type of demand side policies?
    Increase M0 or M3, cut r, or make it negative. Increase G and finance it by ‘borrowing’ from the central bank or by borrowing from the private sector. Or ensure that private credit is extended only for GDP transactions.
    All that is lacking is a ‘sufficient’ increase in aggregate demand! They ignore the negative externalities associated with economic ‘growth’?
    Of course, the neoclassical economists, who believe that income/output is ‘supply determined’ will argue that all that is required to generate a large increase the growth of the underlying productive potential of an economy is for taxes to be cut and more ‘competition’ , etc be introduced!”

  2. Steven Myburgh
    Steven Myburgh says:

    Excellent piece, not pulling any punches. I am happy to hear WeAll supports growth agnosticism, as opposed to either green growth or degrowth. Excellent point, that much social welfare and other public spending could be avoided by building inclusivity into the economy in the first place. It would be great to see the embrace of rights of nature goals – giving inalienable rights to species and ecosystems, to be allowed to exist and to persist into the future.

  3. Maliga Naidoo
    Maliga Naidoo says:

    Well written, Rabia. For a moment, I thought this article was about South Africa 😁. As we move into Level 2 of the Disaster Management phase during Covid-19, and the urgent need to “re-open the economy,” very little thought has been spared towards the Social Injustices experienced by the poor and under served communities. Building stronger, economically active and more resilient communities is imperative. It is necessary for public spending to be channeled towards investing in community assets and infrastructure = sustainability and growth in wellbeing.

Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. […] We can all agree on the need to rebuild, but it’s imperative that we build back better instead of simply returning to the status quo, which works only for the few and often neglects the very key workers on whom we all rely. We are just not convinced that GDP is the most useful measure of how Scotland builds back better, renews, or recovers. See our recent response to comments made by Benny Higgins, the chairman of Nicola Sturgeon’s advisory group on economic recovery, to learn more about the myth of “green growth”. […]

  2. […] position is very different from the Scottish Govt’s reaction to the recent Benny Higgins report. Good article from WEAll’s Rabia Abrar spelling out clear differences – in spite of deliberate SNP […]

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